Flower Fairies

Posted: August 10th, 2018

Do you believe in Fairies? In today’s technological world I am pleased to say that fairies are as popular as ever. The desire to escape and believe is still potent.

Young, middle-aged and aged fairy fanciers are flocking to the ‘Flower Fairies’ exhibition at the Garden Museum until 30 September 2018. There is something utterly enchanting about Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies. Who could fail to be beguiled by the fuchsia fairy in her delicious little fuchsia dress or the sweet pea fairy wearing a bonnet fashioned out of a sweet pea flower? There is an unsullied freshness and innocence about the pictures that still appeal a century after the Elves & Fairies postcards were first produced in 1918. How cheering they must have been in the 4th year of WW1.

Flower Fairies

A glimpse of the Flower Fairies exhibition at the Garden Museum, Lambeth


Cicely Mary Baker published the first of her Flower Fairies books in 1923, Flower Fairies of the Spring, and went on to publish a further seven books. Many of the original illustrations for more than 40 of her designs are included in the exhibition – as well as previously unseen sketchbooks and preparatory drawings for many of the most popular fairies such as the Horse Chestnut Fairy, the Strawberry Fairy and the Rose Fairy.


The Fuchsia Fairy © The Estate of Cicley Mary Barker 1934

The Fuchsia Fairy by Cicely Mary Barker.


A sufferer from epilepsy from a young age, she could not attend school. Instead she whiled away the time drawing and painting.

Clearly a skilled botanical artist, Cicely Mary Baker combines exquisitely and accurately depicted flowers and plants with winsome little girls which were inspired by children in her sister, Dorothy’s kindergarten.

‘Fairiphernalia’ was popular long before 1918. It was a Victorian vogue. Sir Joseph Noel Paton’s ‘The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania’ and ‘The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania’ were exhibited at the Scottish Royal Academy in 1850, and the former was hailed as the picture of the exhibition. The crowds were so great that extra attendants had to be posted.

The 19th-century British fascination with fairyland led to a proliferation of fairy paintings. The Victorians passionately believed in the unseen. As Charles Dickens wrote in Household Hints in 1853, ‘in an utilitarian age, of all other time, it is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected.’

The Nightshade Fairy © The Estate of Cicley Mary Barker 1925

The Nighshade Fairy by Cicely Mary Barker


Many fairy paintings have an arched top creating the illusion of ‘a window looking into the fairy world,’ says Rupert Maas of the Maas Gallery, who staged ‘The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of: Fairy Painting in Britain from 1842-1915’ in 2013.

There is a thrilling programme of events at the Garden Museum (www.gardenmuseum.org.uk/events) including cookery workshops which explore the use of edible flowers in food and garden workshops which will allow children to make fairy gardens.

The exhibition is sponsored by Freddie’s Flowers.